Praise All Around For James

Health seems to be about the only question between first-round draft pick Erasmus James and a starting position, if analysis by head coach Mike Tice and director of college scouting Scott Studwell means anything. If that's the case, it would be a young and athletic defensive front.

Don't be surprised if the Vikings end up starting three first-round draft picks on their defensive line this season. Kevin Williams (2003) and Kenechi Udeze (2004) are locked in as starters, and Erasmus James (2005) should be considered the favorite in his battle with Darrion Scott at right end.

"There was a time, early on last season, when Erasmus looked like he was going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft," said Scott Studwell, the Vikings' director of college scouting. "He sprained his ankle and tailed off, but he's still an outstanding player."

James missed the 2003 season at Wisconsin while recovering from a dislocated hip. He came back 100 percent and was peaking when he sprained his ankle late in the 2004 season. The ankle also has fully healed.

Coach Mike Tice has been so impressed with James this offseason, he has compared his pass rushing moves to those of former Vikings standout Chris Doleman.

"Erasmus is everything we thought he'd be when we drafted him," Tice said. "He has tremendous speed, tremendous get off on the ball. I like our athleticism up front."

Williams is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, if not the best. He has 22 sacks in his first two seasons and is coming off his first All-Pro selection and Pro Bowl berth.

Williams should be even better in 2005 because the Vikings finally will pair him with a beefy nose tackle. They signed Bills veteran Pat Williams, who will occupy more blockers than former Viking Chris Hovan or backup Spencer Johnson did the past two seasons.

Udeze, who slipped toward the end of last season, is much stronger after finally having shoulder surgery this offseason. He also will switch from right end to his more natural left end position this season.

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